For the Week of December 24, 2017: The Gifts of Gratitude

‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there…
(From:  A Visit From St. Nicholas,  by Clement C. Moore)


Christmas Eve, and I discover I can still recite “Twas the night before Christmas,” by heart, memorized when I was in grade school many years ago.  We’re celebrating our Christmas holiday  with my eldest daughter and her family this year, something we’ve managed to do only a handful of times in the past twenty-five years, as we all lived thousands of miles apart.    It’s a busy day ahead:  Much of my day will be focused on the preparation for the Christmas day  dinner, shared around our cozy table.  Most of the rest of our Christmas production is now directed by my daughter and her husband–largely oriented to the delight of granddaughter Flora, a six-year old who still believes Santa will arrive the night of the 24th, stealthily sliding down the chimney.  It’s likely the last year for her fantasy, one that will no longer be believed in by next December.

There’s much for Santa to do, of course, and his helpers–her mother, father, grandmother and grandfather–are all involved in making Christmas morning as full of excitement and fun as we can.  I’m delighted to see that the traditions both my daughters knew as children are now part of what their children’s experience, and one of the most enduring is the filling of Christmas stockings.

The excitement over stockings is something I knew as a child.  My siblings and I dutifully hung ours over the fireplace, but there wasn’t much anticipation attached to doing so, since we seldom found anything the next morning but  an orange and a few walnuts stuffed in the toes.  All that changed when I first married.  My husband and I had moved to Ottawa and lived closer to my east coast in-laws, so our Christmas holidays were usually spent with my husband’s family, and there,  I came to appreciate the ritual of Christmas stockings, “hung by the chimney with care,” in an entirely new light.  Our filled stockings, the contents the work of a very creative mother-in-law, became the high point of Christmas morning, delighting the adults and grandchildren alike.  As a young mother, I quickly adopted the tradition to become part of the Christmas experience of my daughters.  It’s now a family tradition they have incorporated with their families, and the fun of opening stockings continues to the present, the only difference is that filling them has become an extended family affair!

But this morning, I was thinking about filling my Christmas stocking in a very different way.  I eyed the  three stockings hanging from our fireplace mantle–my husband’s, our dog’s and mine–and began making a list of how, as I looked back on the past months,  my stocking might be filled differently.  What would I put in it given the choice?  Gratitude was the very first thing that came to mind, and I  began a list, defining what I was grateful for:

  • the decision to return to Toronto–the sense of coming “home”
  • my family–two wonderful daughters and three grandchildren who bring me unimaginable joy
  • a chance to share, on a day-to-day basis, in the life of my eldest daughter and her daughter
  • the wealth of enduring friends, scattered all over the continent and the world
  • the celebration of two dear friends, now cancer-free
  • the remembrance of loved ones who are no longer alive
  • the stories and poems written by the men and women in my cancer writing groups
  • the kindness of those friends in San Diego and Toronto who helped to make our transition and move easier
  • good health–other than the usual aches and pains of aging, and for the more complicated bodily weaknesses, the care of extraordinary physicians
  • and the opportunity to continue leading cancer writing groups here in Toronto.

At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us. –Albert Schweitzer

There’s more, I’m certain, but my virtual stocking is nearly overflowing, because mingled among the gratitude is hope.  Hope for the world, for healing, for a cure for cancer, for an end to war, suffering and poverty–things that occupy my thoughts as frequently as the gratitude–one inseparable from the other.

Writing Suggestion:

Whatever your holiday traditions are, the hustle and bustle of the season sometimes overshadows the time for reflection, for “counting your blessings,” or for pausing to consider what you are most grateful for.  Make a gratitude list–whether it’s as though you’re filling that virtual stocking hung by the fireplace or put in a box and gift-wrapped.  What are you most grateful for and why?

Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it.–William Arthur Ward

For now, as Christmas Eve beckons to many of us, my gratitude to all of you who may be taking the time to read these weekly posts.  I wish everyone a holiday filled with gratitude, the warmth of family and friends, and in the coming year ahead, hope and healing.


About Sharon A. Bray, EdD

Best known for her innovative work with cancer patients and survivors, Sharon is a writer, educator and author of two books on the benefits of expressive writing during cancer as well as personal essays, a children's book, magazine articles and the occasional poetry. She designed and initiated expressive writing programs at several major cancer centers, including Breast Cancer Connections, Stanford Cancer Center, Scripps Green Cancer Center and Moores UCSD Cancer Center. She continues to lead expressive writing groups for men and women living in the San Diego area and teach creative writing workshops and classes privately for UCLA extension Writers' Program. She previously taught professional development courses in therapeutic writing at Santa Clara University and the Pacific School of Religion, was a faculty member of the CURE Magazine Forums and at the Omega Institute in 2014. Sharon earned her doctorate from the University of Toronto and studied creative and transformative writing at Humber School for Writers, University of Washington, and Goddard College.
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